Hunger; Trump Budget: Joel Berg Segment 6 15 17
The federal budget announced by the Trump administration last month was soundly rejected on both sides of the aisle for its draconian social safety net cuts in programs like Meals on Wheels and after-school programs. There is talk that this budget is dead on arrival. But we in NY know all too well Donald Trump has a history of proposing something really terrible as a ruse to “compromise” on something only slightly less egregious, leaving the city and communities grateful for said compromise---which was probably his goal all along. Here on WBAI's The Morning Show to discuss the federal budget and his latest book, America We Need to Talk: A Self-Help Book for the Nation,is Joel Berg,CEO of Hunger-Free America.
Berg says he wrote, America, We Need to Talk?, because American politics is "so insane these days, sometimes parody is the best way get to the truth." He describes the book as a parody on self-help books with the expected cliches, but that there is a "serious point" within: that the relationship between the American people, society and government needs fixing. "Just as its wrong to blame one side for any problem in a relationship, its also all of our responsibilities for this broken country, and all of our responsibilities to fix it," Berg believes. These myriad problems are tied into the decline of the middle class, the increase in hunger, and even the decline of comedy.
"We in NY know that Trumpism isn't new-- it's really an expansion of what Rudy was doing, just screaming at opponents, vilifying certain types of people..." he believes. Berg says his main points are that 'None of this is new and we must takes steps to fight back.' Rudy's authoritarianism helped pave the way for Trump, Berg maintains. Now, there's a big debate among progressives: Do we help working class rural whites or do we worry about low-income people of color? Berg says this is a "ridiculous" way to frame it, because most people of color are working class, and many poor white people live in cities while poor minorities live in rural areas. But, the same problems afflict both areas: A lack of jobs, low wages, no serious system of health or child care, so the same things are needed to bolster the middle class AND to reduce poverty, says Berg.
Berg believes progressives need to be pushed. The same old causes--like increasing the minimum wage--are important, but in areas with high unemployment, merely higher wages for people already working does nothing for the rest of the community. Berg advocates the need for broader approaches. "It's not necessarily about moving to the left. We need to be bolder...[we need] 'radical centerists.'" Berg calls for "big" programs that can appeal to the American public in general, and aren't necessarily seen as leftist so therefore won't be automatically discounted by the right-wing and the rest of the country.
Berg maintains there are serious, systemic problems with the way government works--or doesn’t-- problems pre-dating the Trump administration. "One of the main solutions is for progressives to support policies that unite rural and urban America and people of all races." Berg describes how the GOP has been harmful to the country for decades, and how Democrats have been lame. "We shouldn't be shocked by what's happened. There's plenty of ammunition for both sides failing," but Berg emphatically pushes back that the two parties share equal responsibility.
Tuesday’s NY Post ran an article about a report Rep. Nydia Velazquez’s office prepared detailing how bad Trump’s budget is for NYC. Berg confirms the dire predictions pointing to how NYC alone spends about $2.8B per year on the food stamp program or SNAP. With the administration proposing to cut 1/3, this equals "hundreds of millions of dollars per year coming out of shopping carts of hungry NYers." He says they will be devastated.
Berg notes the irony how he's been telling colleagues for decades--especially since Reagan and the two Bush presidencies--things are not "apocalyptic," because there's a social safety net (eroded as it's been), there's the minimum wage--"But if these cuts take place or anything near [the proposals], we will have depression like conditions in NYC. It's not like it's great as it is--the SNAP benefit is now $1.30 per person." If that amount is cut by one-third, the city will go "from paltry to near-starvation conditions," all the while, none would reduce the budget deficit. "It's all tax cuts for the mega rich." and cuts in everything that matters to NYers.
Overall, the Trump budget is cataclysmic for what’s left of the country’s social safety net. The NYT reports that over the next decade, more than $800 billion would be slashed from Medicaid, and more than $72 billion from disability benefits. NPR reports President Trump's full budget proposal for fiscal year 2018...calls for a $9.2 billion--or 13.5%--cut to education, "spread across K-12 and aid to higher education disproportionately…...affecting poor and special-needs students... from vision screening to speech therapy."
Berg explains how the GOP is getting away with these policies, using two major strategies: "Don't discuss the cuts, and when they're not hiding, their lying." These cuts hurt their base of support, Berg says, noting 8/10 states receiving the most SNAP funding voted for Trump. Many are rural white areas, but they "get away with it by giving the false impression it'll affect 'Some other kind of people' ie non-whites ,so supposedly they don't matter as much. Eventually, he predicts, the people losing their food, their jobs, living with polluted water, will know where to point the finger so they "can only hide or lie for so long." Berg also acknowledges Trump's proposed cuts to drug addiction programs evoke mixed feelings for him which is already creating a back-lash because these same people didn't seem too concerned when the programs primarily helped people of color with addictions.
According to Berg, "Basically, to figured out what Trump is doing, take what he says and then figure out the opposite is what he's actually doing. It's a pretty easy guide." Berg describes this as the "quintessential lose-lose budget."
Berg urges listeners to keep their senators focused; get friends and relatives in swing states and regions involved; call in to radio shows, write letters to editors, meet with legislators...Book proceeds benefit his organization, Hunger Free America. He also urges people to learn how to volunteer and more effectively fight hunger--not just at Xmas or Thanksgiving. "We need donations because we are at the vanguard of opposition to Trump on poverty programs," Berg says.
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